A story might open with the hero in a lawn chair, smoking a cigar and drinking lemonade until the end, where the hero walks in the park in sunset against the sound of twittering birds. But, hey – c’mon – would anyone want to read a story like that?
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The protagonist is the focus in fiction. We care for the protagonist and we expect him or her to overcome problems, no matter what.
All of which means, of course, that somebody or something will threaten your protagonist.
What if the opposite were true? A story might open with the hero in a lawn chair, smoking a cigar and drinking lemonade until the end, where the hero walks in the park in sunset against the sound of twittering birds. But, hey – c’mon – would anyone want to read a story like that?
No, instead, as a fiction writer, it’s your job to torture this unfortunate fellow.
Enter the little, bulging, red pincushion of fate.
Yes, the hero can start out in his lawn chair. But then, as the writer, it falls to you to arrange a confrontation, better known as a “conflict”.
In my analogy with a pincushion, you start by driving the first straight pin in. For example, you may introduce a cruel criminal who tips the lawn chair and rips the wallet away. Or, you may fill the hero’s head with remorse, producing a groan of distress. Or, worse yet, you might simply fry the lawn chair with a jagged bolt of lightning.
But that’s just step one – the pin entering the little cushion.
Now, it’s not enough to lead the hero to a neat solution with the help of friends, society, or professionals. That would be too easy. I mean, police could arrest the criminal, the road might lead to pleasure, or the lightning might just go away. No, it’s high time for pin number two.
The second pin should pull your hero away from whatever support system that really matters. Perhaps the hero is pulled away from home, or the family is forced to evacuate. Now, on his or her own, the hero is left to wander. Think “The Wayward Wind!”
Enter pin three. This time the hero is taken on the wrong path and no escape seems possible. Death or utter misery is certain. People try to become heroic rescuers, but nothing can be done. For a seemingly endless time the protagonist flounders in abject poverty and failing health.
The scene then shifts to pin four, in which yet another element in the support system reaches out to help but is unable to succeed. The situation is hopeless, and the reader starts gripping the sides of another lawn chair in anxiety.
And then, eureka, the tables turn, and all those little pins now seem insignificant. The hero has achieved every objective and a shaft of light descends from the heavens.
Have you read a suspense novel that fails to follow this sketchy formula?
When you write, does your fiction create this kind of dilemma? A good pincushion ending is better than just a routine walk in the park. And you’ll be glad you wrote it that way.
(To publish a copy of this article, please write me at the same address and I will be happy to oblige.)
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